KAYSVILLE — Based on the novel published in 1905 by Baroness Orczy, the musical version of The Scarlet Pimpernel, with a book by Nan Knighton and music and lyrics by Frank Wildhorn, is the latest presentation from the Hopebox Theatre, directed by Matt Hewitt and Ryan Bruckman. This is one of those rare shows that I have been lucky enough to see evolve through several revisions, having seen the first Broadway production and subsequent professional productions that experienced rewrites and adjustments. I am glad that with this final product that is now what audiences see, Wildhorn and Knighton have finally put the story together well. It is a good story with a lot of intrigue, mystery, and potential with the right cast.
The intimate Hopebox space can be used well, but can also feel a bit cramped. And “cramped” is the best way to describe the set design by Curtis Dalton and Trevor Wirth. While the set was constructed well and visually pleasing, it easily filled the theater and left me feeling claustrophobic. Other elements, such as the bridge in one scene, the book shelves in another, and of course, the guillotine would have been better served with a projected or painted wall backdrop, allowing the full stage to be open for the players. The changing of the sets also seemed to take an additional amount of time, which was slightly distracting to the flow of the overall production.
I commend Matt Hewitt’s music direction, especially with the strong vocals in this production. I have found some Wildhorn shows to be a bit taxing in the chorus music, but Hewitt had a great understanding of the vocal capabilities of his cast, and he was able to build the harmonies well. The anthem-like song “Into The Fire” has some strong and tight harmonies that the male chorus performed with exactness. Additionally, the costuming (designed by Stephanie Bruckman), was superb, with the character of Marguerite St. Just (played by Emily Summerhays), benefiting particularly from the beauty of costuming from the play’s action. Similarly, the fun of costuming within for “Creation of Man” cannot be understated, nor the excellent choreography also by Bruckman, and of course the sheer humor from the entire cast in that song.
The role of the villain, Chauvelin (played by Bradley Hatch), had me experiencing a bit of trepidation at first because Hatch has a very kind, innocent looking face. Can this man really represent someone who practices manipulation, deceit, and power? I was quickly put in my judgmental place once he started the song “Madame Guillotine.” With each subsequent song, where Hatch managed to improve upon his levels of inciting terror and put me in my place for being skeptical of his performance. Hatch has a strong vocal presence and I truly enjoyed all of his numbers. Derek Raynor‘s lighting design helped to increase the darkness and fear of the character of Chauvelin.
As the main character of Percy Blakeney, Jared Morgan was also a delight to watch. It was easy to see how he could be considered a strong leader and on the flip side a total “nincompoop.” From his strong performance in “Into the Fire” to his humor in “Creation of Man,” Morgan developed a strong characterization that was a pleasure to watch, regardless of the tone of the scene. Summerhays as Marguerite was also enjoyable to watch, but I felt that her performance was understated in comparison to the two leading men. While her main solo, “When I Look at You,” was lovely, in the trio at the end of act one, “The Riddle,” Summerhays seemed to be lost under the powerful performances of Morgan and Hatch.
While there were a few things that I noticed for improvement, overall this production of The Scarlet Pimpernel at the Hopebox Theatre was enjoyable and entertaining. As always, the mission at Hopebox of utilizing proceeds to help those undergoing cancer treatment is also something to feel good about when supporting a production there. For those who have not had a chance to see a production of The Scarlet Pimpernel, this show provides an excellent taste of the fear that enveloped Europe during the French Revolution.